Read The Fire Inside Online

Authors: Kathryn Shay

Tags: #firefighter romance series, #firefighting romance, #family sagas novel, #female firefigher, #firefighter romance novels, #firefighter training, #psychologist romance

The Fire Inside (9 page)

BOOK: The Fire Inside
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“You think I’ll ever be able to run or at
least jog, Cory?”

“Uh-huh. Six weeks isn’t that long to recover
from the latest injury. So you’ll probably be able to jog
soon.”

When she started to chide herself that she
should have been more careful, she stopped. No sense in making the
situation worse by blaming herself because she knew all along she
might never be ready to go back on the line.

“I know you talked to Ian.” Cory’s voice was
a low baritone. “He’s a great guy, isn’t he? God, I admire him.
Everybody here does.”

“There’s a lot to admire.”

Glancing over at her, he gave her a male
smile. “Ever seen his wife?”


“No. Why?”

“She’s a looker. A former Broadway star.”

“Wow.”

“She’s the light of his life now.”


Again, she thought of how that didn’t seem to
be in the cards for her.

After an hour, Tess was perspiring and
welcomed the simultaneous tired muscles and enervation of her
body.

“That’s good enough, don’t you think?” Cory
asked.

“Yeah, I do.”

“Come on. There’s a spot to get water and
juice outside the gym.”

Her hair damp, her clothes, too, she said,
“I’m a mess.”

“Nah, you look beautiful.”

They headed to the door, and he pulled it
open for her. “Sure wish you were stayin’ in town, Righetti.”

“Yeah?”

He slid his arm around her shoulders for a
friendly hug. “Yeah.”

o0o

Jack stared over at a man he admired more
than anyone else in the department. A man who’d become a close
friend. “I’m sorry, Mitch, but I’ve had recent experience with
Tess’s teaching that makes me object to bringing her on board.”

“You said that before, but honestly, Jack,
I’m flabbergasted that you’d blackball her here because of a brief
encounter.”

“Blackball?” What an ugly concept, one with
strong negative connotations. “I’m not doing that.”

Noah got up, circled his desk and leaned
against the edge so he was part of the group. “I have to say, Jack,
I agree with Mitch about the blackballing—that’s what you’re doing.
But Mitch, if Jack has cause for concern, we need to know why.”

“All right. I can’t object without reason.”
Jack chose his words carefully. “You all know I train in
firefighting every once in a while to give me insight into
firefighters who come to see me as a psychologist. I went upstate
to the RFD recruit class, and Tess was an instructor at their
academy. I went incognito, I might add, for two weeks. Her attitude
toward the kids was…unpleasant. She rarely complimented the good
things they did and got on them about their faults.”


On
them?” Mitch asked. “How?”

“She was sarcastic if one couldn’t complete a
task. She often said there was a good chance that some of them
weren’t going to become firefighters. She criticized them for every
little infraction.” He scanned the group. “The kids need
encouragement when they fail, not blame, so they can improve. I
stand by that.”

Olive sighed. “We criticize them, too, Jack,
and are stern.” She caught Tony Ramirez’s eye. “Well, except for
Mr. Nice Guy over there.”

Tony grinned. “Remember what you told me when
we talked about that?”


“Uh-huh. That the class needed the good guys
and the bad guys to instruct them. I was pleased you weren’t hard
ass but could appreciate the staff who demanded more.” She looked
at Haywood Jenkins. “You’re tough, right?”

“More than I like to be. But it’s
necessary.”

Jane Phillips sat forward. She glowed these
days, her brown eyes and hair reminding him of Tess’s looks. “Can I
say something?”

Olive gave her a generous smile. “Of
course.”

“I volunteered now because I’m closer in age
to the recruits than you all are. I appreciated guys like Tony when
I trained, but I also needed the toughness. One guy was super hard
on me because I was eighteen and female. I’ll tell you, I hated
him, but he made me a better firefighter because I was gonna make
it just to piss him off.”

“Was he pissed off?” Mitch asked.

“No, he was pleased. He even told me that at
graduation.”

Noah turned to Jack. “What do you think?”

God, this was hard. He
did
believe
Tess was too tough, but as the people in this room, the people he
admired, spoke, he knew he agreed with much of what they said, too.
That caused him to wonder if his personal relationship with Tess
was interfering with his professional judgment. He
didn’t
want her at his workplace because he couldn’t think straight when
she was around.

“Jack?”

“After hearing all this, I’m torn. I agree in
part with what you said. But I think you can be
too
tough on
recruits.”

“Won’t your class help with that?” the chief
asked.

Oh, man, he’d have to deal with the kids’
complaints about Tess directly. “I suppose.”

“I say we interview her.” Olive looked at
Mitch.

“There’s another issue,” Jack pointed out.
“What if this group decides she isn’t what we want after talking to
her? Can you deal with her on that, Mitch?”

Mitch laughed. “She was fourteen when her
parents died and she came to live with us. I was more than a decade
older, and I had to deal with a lot of hard stuff with her. We have
a bond because of that. I don’t think it’ll break over this.
Besides, you’ll love her.”

That’s what I’m afraid of
, Jack
thought.

“Jack, are you okay with this compromise?”
Noah wanted to know. “Since you’re torn anyway?”

“Yeah, I am.”

“Thanks, Doc.” Mitch’s tone had softened.
“For giving her a chance.”

He just nodded. He felt out of his depth
here, which was something that almost never happened to him these
days. It was best to tread lightly.

o0o

The little juice bar sported four tables, and
a counter. The lights were bright, despite the gray day outdoors
and the mistiness of the air. She smiled over at Cory. “Thanks for
the support during my evaluation. I appreciated it.”

“So, what do you think you’ll do now?”

Shrugging a shoulder, she sighed. “Go back to
Rockland. Try to piece my career back together somehow, in the
RFD.”

“I meant what I said before. I wish you were
staying here. You got the whole Malvaso clan to look after
you.”

“Yeah, that’s appealing. But my life’s back
there.”

“Hey, honey.”

Tess looked up at Mitch standing over her at
the table. Her mood perked up at the sight of him. The fact that
she got to see him casually like this was a gift. Once, she’d taken
their daily encounters for granted, when she was young, but then
she’d left the Malvaso home and was…lonely, she realized now.

“Speak of the devil,” Cory laughed.

“What?”

Tess smiled at Mitch. “We were just talking
about you.”

“Anything good?”

“Actually, for us it would be.” Cory’s eyes
twinkled. “I’m trying to talk her into staying in Hidden Cove.”

Mitch nodded. “Can I borrow her for a minute,
Cory?”

“Sure, sit here. I have an appointment soon.”
He looked at Tess. “Think about what I said.”

When Cory left them alone, Tess drained what
was left of her water.

“Want more?” Mitch asked.

Always the caretaker. She wished it didn’t
feel so good. “I’m fine, but get some if you want.”

Instead, he sat. “We just came out of a
meeting about the new recruit class.”

“Did it go well?”

“No. Tom Senate, a line firefighter, asked
for reassignment.”

“Why?”

“Because Jack is holding a workshop for the
recruits called Recruit Concerns. Did you know about that?”

“Yeah. He was upstate to get some experience
for it.” She scowled. “I still think I should have been told about
his role.” Something occurred to her that should have before.
“Mitch, why didn’t you tell me he was coming up to Rockland?”

“He asked Noah and me not to let anyone know
who he was. When I told him I had family up there, he said not to
mention we knew him, he wanted fair treatment. He got it from
you.”

“Not that he was happy about it.”

Mitch shrugged a shoulder. “In any case, Tom
didn’t want to open himself up to scrutiny by letting the recruits
talk about the staff in the RC class. And he was totally against
not knowing what they said about him.”

“If Senate’s doing what he thinks is best, he
shouldn’t care.”

Mitch bestowed an approving smile on her,
like the ones she got from him when she’d won the Senior English
prize in high school and graduated from the Fire Academy. “That’s
how I feel. But not everybody has the self-esteem that’s in the
Malvaso blood.”

“You helped me form that.”

“We fought, kiddo, remember?”

“I do. I loved you like a brother, though. I
knew you had my best interest at heart.” She bit her lip.

His brow furrowed, and his expression turned
bleak. “Joey didn’t take it so well.”

“I know, Mitch. He was too spoiled by the
time he came to live with you. He never got over his sense of
entitlement. Of invulnerability. And it killed him.”

“Do you think about him all the time,
still?”

“Not all the time. Lots, though. Especially
after I visit his grave.” She shook her head. “What were we talking
about?”

“The recruit class. The team wants to
interview you.”

She thought about Cory and Mitch both asking
her to stay. “Who’s the team?”

He told her.

“Jack Harrison won’t want me on staff,
Mitch.”

“You’re right. I was gonna tell you that he
voiced his concerns. But he agreed that if everybody else wants to
hire you after your interview, he’ll go along with us.”

“I’m surprised he gave in.” She sighed. “He’s
so stubborn and opinionated.”

“Jack? Everybody loves him.”

“He has good traits, I know.” That was an
understatement. She knew a great deal about how
good
he was.
“But Mitch, I still haven’t decided to stay in Hidden Cove. Though
I’m giving it more thought now.”

“I heard you talking to Chief Lincoln last
night. Sorry, I didn’t intentionally eavesdrop.”

“That’s okay. I would have told you if you
asked. There’s no recruit class until the fall, but I can go back
to the Academy. He says I can train seasoned firefighters”—she
rolled her eyes—“or do PR for the department.”

“Teresa Righetti, the poster child for women
recruitment. I can see where you’d like that.” His tone was
dry.

“I’d hate it. But I do want more women to
join the department. I suppose I could tolerate the job.”

“What about the other?”

“What other?”

“Having your surrogate mother and brothers
and sisters around. Getting to know your nieces and nephews.
Doesn’t that appeal to you?”

Her heart twisted in her chest. She thought
of Sabina fussing over her at home now. Of Zach stopping by to see
her during the day. Of their wives asking her out to lunch. “You
know it does.”

“Then, go for this job, honey. Give us some
time together. I’m sure Noah could make arrangements with Chief
Lincoln for a temporary leave for you to do this if you want to go
back in four months.”

“You think?”

Mitch nodded and took her hand. “What do you
have to lose, Tess?”

Jack Harrison’s face appeared before her.
My heart,
she thought, but didn’t say it. She didn’t even
know him well enough to be thinking that. “I’ll need time to
decide.”

“Meet with the other Academy staff later this
afternoon, but tell them you need overnight to consider it.”

“You are a pushy older brother, you know
that?”

His grin was mile-wide. He’d won this
one.

o0o

Three hours later, Jack once again sat in
Noah’s office. This time, Tess Righetti occupied Tom Senate’s
chair. Dressed in the same stretchy pants and navy blouse he’d
reacted to this morning,
she
didn’t seem anxious at all.
Then again, she was confident in her profession. Because of that,
she’d done a fantastic job with the interview. Olive and Jane had
drilled her—female firefighters were a tight bunch, but they didn’t
let anyone in their ranks without scrutiny.

Olive spoke now. “I guess that’s all we
wanted to cover, Tess.”

“We should discuss something else.” She
transferred her dark gaze to Jack. He’d noticed she hadn’t looked
at him for the whole past hour and a half, not even when she
described her philosophy about recruits. “We need to address the
elephant in the room.” The damn woman never backed away from
anything.

Noah raised his brows.

Mitch spoke up. “I told her about Jack’s
reservations.”

“He cleared it with me first, Noah.” Jack’s
voice was even. “Everything should be out in the open.”

Keeping emotion out of her voice, Tess
addressed him directly. “Did you know, Jo—Jack, that everybody
graduated from the recruit class you were in?” Her tone was
smug.

He grinned, despite being on the hot seat.
“Even Mick Riley and Mae—I can’t remember her last name?”

“Even them. Can’t be I did such a bad
job.”

“I never said you did a bad job. I simply
don’t agree with your methods.”

She scanned the group. “Could you tell me now
if the rest of you agree with Dr. Harrison?”

“I’m okay with being tough, Tess.” Olive
spoke first. “But if we do hire you, I’ll challenge you if I think
you’re out of line.”

“I’d expect that regarding any of my
behavior.”

Phillips, Quinn, Ramirez and Jenkins agreed
that toughness was important in dealing with recruits.

Noah looked to Jack.

Jack nodded. “I withdraw my objection.”

“Then, the job’s yours.” Noah smiled.
“Welcome to the Academy.”

“Thank you. But I’d like to think this
through overnight if that’s okay. As I said at the outset, leaving
Rockland would be a big decision.”

BOOK: The Fire Inside
3.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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